PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Democracy At Crossroads

I know. I know. It is hard to stay actively engaged with what is happening in our country. It would be so much easier to just tune things out.

It’s just so overwhelming. So exhausting. The truth is, if I stayed as outraged as the situation warranted every time a norm was obliterated, an egregious lie was told or the rule of law was flaunted I would be perpetually angry and have zero quality of life. To stay sane, you have to take things in bits and pieces.

But even so, we can’t ignore it and look the other way. That has historically been how autocrats and totalitarians take power. By wearing people down and wearing them out because IT JUST BECOMES TOO MUCH. So they sweep in when the voices quiet down, inertia sets in and what was once deemed unthinkable becomes acceptable. When we normalize behavior, that is morally wrong and unacceptable.

That is one reason I have taken to listening to people I never I thought I would — as my “touchstones to outrage” — people with whom I do not agree politically but who I have discovered in this current era share a love for the core values of this nation and are willing to stand up for their principles ahead of their political party. I am discovering that when I hear them cry out in disbelief, it is not about differing views or agendas but about common decency and constitutional norms.

In an effort to test my level of outrage, I find myself seeking out the opinions of people like George Will, Michael Steele, Nicolle Wallace, Bill Kristol and Jennifer Rubin — conservatives all. They have many beliefs with which I vehemently disagree, but they I have come to discover are people of character for whom facts still matter and who don’t simply care what happens in our country but what its effect on our national conscience is. When they share my outrage, I know it isn’t about just my agenda — it is about who we are as a nation and what we represent.

I have always been a dyed-in-the-wool liberal but one who has always valued and respected the opinions of people with whom I disagree. I served as the pastor in a conservative community for 20 years and before that, I surrounded myself with people who may have had different opinions than me but who were nonetheless people of honesty and integrity. I avoided living in an echo chamber. I refused to demonize those with whom I disagree and understand that two people can have radically different  political views but still be upstanding and respectable, kind and compassionate.

But in the past couple of years, I have been stunned as so many people have stayed silent as lies and bullying have become acceptable, cruelty is ignored and hateful and divisive speech is not repudiated. International enemies are embraced, friends are treated with ridicule and the moral values that this nation has long lifted up are thrown away for political expediency and personal gain.

What has been transpiring this past week in the U.S. has been terrifying as far as our Constitution and the rule of law, but nothing illustrates it more than a more than an hourlong phone call between the White House and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Regardless of your political leanings, the Mueller Report makes it very clear that Russia attacked the United States during the 2016 election and intends to continue to do so again. This has not been disputed by either side of the aisle. Yet in this phone call, this attack was once again referred to as a “hoax,” and this adversary who opposes every core value we have as a nation was not confronted about this egregious assault on our democracy nor was it even mentioned. Instead it was described as a warm conversation with a good friend.

Anyone who is not disturbed by this fact needs to question whether their loyalty is to the United States or to a political party or person. We are not an autocracy, but we will become one if we normalize this kind of thing.

I know it’s exhausting and it’s easy to just ignore it. But people fought and died for our freedom. And if we say we care about that, it’s the least we can do to pay attention when a man like Putin, who wants to destroy our freedom, is allowed to get away attacking our electoral system. This is not about a political party, it is about freedom and the ability to have an independent protected election.

True patriotism doesn’t come from singing an anthem or hugging a flag. It comes for standing up for the core values expressed in our Constitution and supporting the rule of law as enforced by a fair and unbiased system of justice.

If we get too overwhelmed to care or pay attention, then we aren’t being faithful to those who sacrificed everything for what we have as a nation.

T.S. Eliot said, “This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper.” Let not the same be said of our democracy.

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